Camarillo, Calif., Dec. 16, 2016 — CSU Channel Islands (CI) Assistant Professor of Political Science Matthew Mendez, Ph.D., has earned national recognition for his dissertation on when and how well state lawmakers represent the interests of undocumented immigrants.
“Invisible Constituents: The Representation of Undocumented Immigrants” earned Mendez the Best Dissertation Award from the American Political Science Association.
“Undocumented immigrants can’t vote so they have no direct influence over whether a candidate is elected, so it is up to the lawmaker to decide how well he or she represents this portion of the population,” Mendez said. Mendez argued in his dissertation that there are other reasons why a politician would look out for the best interests of those who hold no sway over whether or not he or she is elected.
“I was trying to argue there are alternative reasons that would make a legislator decide to represent undocumented immigrants,” Mendez said. “The legislator turns to his or her own values. I found that Latino legislators want to represent all Latinos, including undocumented immigrants.”
Non-Latino legislators also represent the interests of undocumented immigrants, according to Mendez’s research, but it’s not as high a priority.
“Non-Latinos tend to respond to the citizen over the Latino undocumented immigrant,” he said.
Mendez said the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. are here under different circumstances, but in many cases have lived here all or a good part of their lives, especially those who arrived as children.
“You have people who, to a degree, are integrated. They’re workers. They’re members of the community,” he said. “Many are contributing whether it’s to the tax base or the local community. All of that gives some expectation that they should have some representation.”
Mendez’s research can be useful for immigration advocates, he said, because it details how relationships are built between legislators and advocates.
Mendez’s dissertation was mentioned in a “friend of the court” brief in the U.S. Supreme Court in the 2016 case of Evenwel v. Abbott, which concerned redistricting in the state of Texas. The court held that one person, one vote principle under the 14th Amendment allows states to use total population, not just total voting-eligible population, in the drawing of legislative districts.
Department of Political Science Chair Sean Kelly, Ph.D. said Mendez’s recognition confirms the quality of the department’s faculty.
“Quality faculty means our students are benefitting from cutting-edge teaching research practice,” Kelly said. “Matthew’s rapport and commitment to our students are truly spectacular things to witness. Everyone in the Political Science program is thrilled to have him and proud of his accomplishment.”
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About California State University Channel Islands
CSU Channel Islands (CI) is the only four-year, public university in Ventura County and is known for its interdisciplinary, multicultural and international perspectives, and its emphasis on experiential and service learning. CI’s strong academic programs focus on business, sciences, liberal studies, teaching credentials, and innovative master’s degrees. Students benefit from individual attention, up-to-date technology, and classroom instruction augmented by outstanding faculty research. CI has been designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is committed to serving students of all backgrounds from the region and beyond. Connect with and learn more by visiting CI's Social Media.