Virginia lawmakers are establishing a commission to investigate the effects of illegal aliens on the state, as a result of their frustration with Congress' inability to agree on a comprehensive federal policy.
"First we have to develop a picture of the interaction — good or bad — between citizens and immigrants," said Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William County Republican. "Then we will make recommendations we can agree on that we can do as a state."
Mr. Marshall said the commission will investigate the effects of immigration — illegal and legal — on vital services such as education, emergency medical care and law enforcement. He said commission members also will attempt to address the question Virginians repeatedly ask: "Why should I obey the laws if these folks are not?"
The 20-member commission also could help answer what many consider the most overarching question: Where does the responsibility of federal government end and the state's begin?
"I think citizens are expressing a frustration that everybody can't keep saying, 'This is not my responsibility,' " Mr. Marshall said. "Some of it is clearly not our responsibility and some of it clearly is."
Under federal law, the state is required to provide illegal aliens with certain services, including public education and emergency medical care.
An estimated 12 million to 20 million illegal aliens are in the United States. In 2005, Virginia was home to more than 250,000 of them, up from 50,000 in 1996, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.
The new commission is lawmakers' latest response to Virginians' increasing anxiety over the issue.
State Sen. Kenneth Thomas Cuccinelli II, Fairfax County Republican, angered some party loyalists this month when he criticized President Bush's support of an immigration plan that many say awards amnesty to millions of illegal aliens.
"President Bush is a good-hearted man, and he is still our president, but as for myself, I no longer consider him the head of my Republican Party," Mr. Cuccinelli said.
Mr. Cuccinelli said his comments reflected those he has heard during his door-to-door campaigning for re-election.
"It's really a head-shaker," he said. "The fury of ordinary Republicans is just extraordinary."
State Sen. Jay O'Brien, Fairfax County Republican, said he hears similar concerns on the campaign trail.
"It's not the Republican Party I see, and I am down here in the trenches," he said.
After two teenage girls were killed last spring in Virginia Beach by an illegal alien reputedly driving drunk, the Virginia State Crime Commission announced that it would establish a commission to study how illegal immigration affects the state's criminal justice system.
In February, the Prince William County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Vice President Dick Cheney asking the federal government to pay the county's estimated $3 million immigration bill.
Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, a Republican, pressured Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, to let the state police, the state Department of Corrections and the state Department of Motor Vehicles enter into an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to allow state authorities to enforce federal immigration laws in the course of investigating violent crimes.
Mr. Kaine balked at the proposal, saying immigration was a federal issue and that the state police would be stretched too thin.
The General Assembly this year took up almost 50 bills related to illegal immigration.
Such action reflects a national trend. The National Conference of State Legislatures released a report that showed as of April state legislators in the 50 states had introduced 1,169 bills and resolutions related to immigration — more than double the number of bills introduced last year.
The result has been a mixed bag of policies, ranging from allowing in-state college tuition for illegal aliens to denying public funding for day-labor centers.
Virginia localities also are making their own decisions.
The municipalities of Herndon and Manassas and Prince William County are using a window in the Immigration and Nationality Act that allows state and local law-enforcement agencies to work with federal officials to identify and detain illegal aliens.
The Herndon Police Department recently completed federal training, making it the first locality in the region to enter the local-federal partnership.