By Mary Wisniewski

(Reuters) - While Alabama and other U.S. states have passed tough new laws targeting illegal immigrants, a city in Ohio has taken another approach.

Dayton, whose population has fallen in recent years, is rolling out the welcome mat for legal immigrants to boost the community.

It approved a plan last week that aims to help legal immigrants navigate the system to establish themselves in the community.

"When folks come, we'd like to welcome them. We'd like to let them know what their resources are to learn English," said Human Relations Council Director Tom Wahlrab. "We want to let them know they have a part in our community."

The plan includes recommendations to create an international marketplace and to increase language services and English classes.

A Brookings Institution report on immigration trends showed that cities which want to stem population loss, like Detroit or Cleveland, were more likely to welcome immigrants. Dayton's population has dropped from about 166,000 in 2000 to 141,500 in 2010.

"We have seen that immigrants who are here already are more likely to start small businesses. They are buying houses, fixing those houses, taking care of their property," said Francisco Pelaez, Hispanic Missionary Pastor for Dayton's College Hill Community Church.

"We want to help this continue. We want to pull down the barriers they are facing because it's not always easy to navigate the system."

Jamie Longazel, sociology professor at the University of Dayton, said the plan should be applauded. But he warned that programs that encourage redevelopment should include all Dayton citizens.

"I think they should do this in as inclusive a way as they possibly can," Longazel said.

(Writing and reporting by Mary Wisniewski; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Patricia Reaney)