WASHINGTON - The Maryland Hispanic population has increased by at least 65 percent since the 2000 Census, contributing to increasing ethnic diversity nationally, according to a new U.S. Census Bureau report.

There are 375,830 Hispanics living in Maryland as of 2007, an increase from 227,916 in 2000, according to Census Bureau data analyzed by the Maryland Department of Planning and released Wednesday. After Hispanics, Asian immigration ranks second with a 29 percent increase.

The Census Bureau American Community Survey reported that the massive increase in immigration from Latin American and Asian countries over the last 40 years "has been the major force changing the racial and ethnic composition of the American population."

Senior Research Analyst Jill Wilson of the Brookings Institute said the huge increase is due partly to the rising number of intermarriages and how foreign-born respondents, those living in the United States without being naturalized, view the concept of race.

"We have to remember that these data are self-reported," Wilson said.

The foreign-born population may have a different interpretation of race depending on which country they come from, she said.

For example, respondents of Cuban origin are more likely to identify themselves as "White" than respondents of Dominican Republic origin, who more often identify themselves as "Some Other Race."

In Maryland, 85 percent of Hispanics identified themselves as "White Alone" over other racial options.

The majority of Maryland Hispanics reside in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Both counties have seen the greatest increases in Hispanic population through the years. However, there's been a recent wave of migration to Western Maryland and suburban Washington.

Frederick County's Hispanic population's change since 2000 was 192 percent, while Washington County's was 150 percent -- the two highest increases in all Maryland jurisdictions.

"In the Washington suburbs, in general, there's been a dramatic increase; part of that is because of new immigration flows to Washington, an immigration gateway," Wilson said.

She said a large portion of the Hispanics living in the metropolitan area moved to the suburbs for more affordable housing or to become first-time homebuyers in a cheaper market.

The previous housing boom created a lot of job opportunities for immigrants drawn to construction and manual labor opportunities, she said.

Soon, however, undocumented immigrants may find it more difficult to find jobs.

Frederick County Commissioners will decide in February whether to install the controversial E-Verify system, a federally-operated, Internet-based program that confirms the status of workers. E-Verify has been criticized for using databases riddled with errors.

Maryland ranks the 13th highest in the nation in immigration. Nearly 227,500 immigrants have taken residence in Maryland since the last decennial census.

About 6 percent of the total national population is Hispanic, according to the community survey. In 1960, 75 percent of the foreign-born were European, while only 9.4 percent were Hispanic. Hispanics now represent nearly half the foreign-born population, according to the survey.

"Whites, in the 18-and-younger group, are already a minority in many metropolitan areas," Wilson said. "I do think that's a trend that will continue. Immigration is not going to stop any time soon."