Vol. 35 | September 2023
"How to Use" the U Visa Certification Dashboard in English
"Cómo utilizar" el Panel de Certificación de Visa U en Español
 Office of Justice & Safety Creates Dashboard that Enhances Transparency on U Visa Certifications in the County

Collaborating with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), the Office of Justice & Safety (OJS) developed a U visa dashboard that provides the public with visibility into the landscape of U visa certification requests and outcomes.
The U visa program, created in 2000, was intended to encourage immigrant victims of domestic violence, trafficking, sexual assault, and other crimes where they suffered substantial mental or physical harm, to report this victimization to authorities. Congress created the U visa with the dual purpose of encouraging crime victims to cooperate and aid law enforcement without fear of deportation and to provide humanitarian relief for survivors of violent crime.  One piece of applying for a U visa is getting a certification form (i.e., Form 1-918B) signed by a certifying agency (e.g., Harris County Sheriff’s Office). A signed certification does not guarantee a successful application for a U visa. It does not grant or convey any immigration status. However, it will allow the survivor to apply for a U visa so that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) can approve or deny an individual's U visa application.

To help create transparency regarding certifications and policies within Harris County, the Office of Justice and Safety collaborated with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) to develop a public-facing U visa Certification Dashboard to inform the public about current certification processes in the County. To start, the dashboard only includes data from the HCSO, but it is the goal to have data from the Houston Police Department and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to be included in the dashboard in the future.
“As a former beat cop, I know firsthand how eyewitness reports are critical to holding criminals accountable. The immigrant community is often targeted because of their status which also plays into their fear of coming forward. That’s why I asked OJS to develop a model U visa Certification policy because U visas are a critical public safety tool,” said Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “The creation of the U visa Certification dashboard is an important next step in helping immigrant survivors know they aren’t alone. It will also help law enforcement and advocates see how many certifications are received by HCSO and their progress.” 
“All people in Harris County deserve the same access to justice – and no victim of crime should suffer in silence for fear of deportation and separation from their family. The U visa is a valuable tool, allowing qualifying victims to stay in the United States while working with law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes without fear of retaliation based on their immigration status. I encourage any undocumented person who is a victim of crime to immediately report it and apply for a U visa,” Commissioner Lesley Briones said.
"We're proud to introduce the U visa Certification Dashboard, a groundbreaking tool that provides real-time information on the certification requests we handle in our office,” Chief Deputy Mike Lee said. “Deputy Cisneros, along with our partners from Justice & Safety, Dr. Veronyka James, and the OJS team, have dedicated significant time and effort to create this unique dashboard. This collaborative effort aligns with our commitment to transparency. By displaying the number of certification requests we receive and process, we aim to enhance transparency for immigrant survivors and their advocates. Our goal is to create an environment where those in need feel empowered to seek assistance without worrying about their immigration status. The information they provide plays a crucial role in helping law enforcement solve these crimes."
OJS is launching phase one of the U visa Dashboard, where the community can view U visa certification data from HCSO on the following:

  • U visa Certifications Received
  • U visa Certifications Referred
  • Agency to Which these were Referred
  • U visa Certifications Denied
  • Reasons for the Denials
  • Raw Data Table
  • Definitions Related to U visa Certification
  • HCSO U visa Certification Policy
“I was honored to collaborate with the Sheriff’s Office, particularly Deputy Cisneros to create this first-of-its-kind U visa Dashboard. This dashboard will provide information on U visa certifications received and processed by the Sheriff’s Office,” said Dr. Veronyka James, Policy Analyst, OJS. “On the Dashboard, you will see the U visa certifications received by the Sheriff’s Office since January 2019. It also shows how many have been approved, denied, and referred, as well as, for 2023, the reasons for denials and where these were referred. The dashboard also includes HCSO’s U visa Certification policy that advocates and survivors can refer to. Currently, the dashboard only includes data from HCSO, but we hope in the future to include data from our other justice and safety partners.”

  • Beginning in January 2019, the number of U visa Certifications received, approved and denied by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office
  • Beginning in January 2023, the reasons for denials of certifications and the agencies certifications are referred to (e.g., HPD)
  • The HCSO U visa Certification Policy

Data will be updated monthly, courtesy of HCSO.

OJS also created both an English and Spanish User Guide and a “How To” Video in English and Spanish for the U visa Certification Dashboard to help you navigate the dashboard. These tools join OJS’ growing set of recourse, reflecting the commitment of Harris County to a more transparent and accountable government. 

OJS (previously JAD) has also released several public-facing dashboards: Index Crime Rates Dashboard, Traffic Stop Demographics Dashboard, Harris County Bail Dashboard, and the Indigent Defense Dashboard among others.

To learn more about OJS’ dashboards and to view our dashboard user guides, visit our website here.
News & Information on Policy Work by OJS
On November 10, 2020, Commissioners Court approved a motion made by Commissioner Adrian Garcia instructing the Justice Administration Department (JAD), (now Office of Justice & Safety) to produce a model policy for law enforcement agencies to use when processing Form I-918B (i.e., U Visa certification) requests and promoting said procedure to local law enforcement agencies. On March 30, 2021, a model policy and report were presented to Commissioners Court. During that Court, JAD was instructed to meet with advocates to get their feedback on the policy and make changes to it incorporating this feedback. OJS updated the U Visa Report and the Model U Visa Policy following meetings with victim service advocates and ensure Harris County’s approach is survivor-centered and presented this to Commissioner’s Court on October 12, 2021. This updated report and policy were unanimously approved. 
As part of the updated report and policy, OJS recommended better data tracking and stated in the policy: “[When] a request is made, the Certifying Official shall complete a U visa tracking sheet which will allow for data on the number of requests, acceptances, denials and other pertinent information to be collectedand submitted to [OJS] monthly so that such anonymous aggregate data can be publicly available upon request.” 
In December 2022, Chief Lee of HCSO contacted OJS to inquire whether Harris County had a U visa dashboard. OJS started working with HCSO to create the U Visa Certification dashboard. OJS worked with HCSO to create the current U Visa Certification Dashboard.  
The dashboard provides data from HCSO on certifications received, signed, declined, and referred since January 2019. In addition to overall data on certifications, it provides information on year-over-year percent change and a breakdown of certifications by month for each year since 2019. The average certifications received, signed, and denied by month are also presented. Where certifications are referred to and the reasons for denial are presented for the current year. The dashboard also has a glossary which defines commonly used terms within the dashboard. The U visa certification policy of HCSO is also included.  
In addition to the dashboards, OJS created User Guides which are how-to guides to help individuals navigate the dashboard. These tools help to create transparency and provides information on U visa certifications processed by HCSO.  
The Racial and Ethnic Equity Committee's (REE Committee) charge is to center the voices of those historically marginalized by the current mode of justice and acknowledge the racial disparities built into the current model of justice. The Committee works to correct those discrepancies using data along with restorative practices to promote an equitable, transparent, community-driven program that serves every individual and ensures Harris County communities are safe, fair, and equitable as well. The 17–member Committee is partially composed of 13-community representatives. The remaining four vacancies will be filled by representatives from the Office of Justice and Safety (OJS), Harris County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), Houston Police Department (HPD), and Harris County Juvenile Probation Department (HCJPD).

The Committee worked on several priorities over the last 2 years since its reinstatement in 2021. Their most recent accomplishment was the successful launch of Harris County’s Annual Disparities Conference in May 2023. The conference featured as its keynote speaker New York Times bestselling author, distinguished professor, and media personality Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. The two-day, inaugural conference was attended by over 250 participants from law enforcement, other criminal justice system actors, and the community, and included 20 breakout sessions with topics ranging from mass incarceration and indigent defense, community responses to hate crimes, the impacts of familial incarceration to conversations on addressing the disproportionate numbers of minority youth in the criminal justice system, LGBTQ + youth in juvenile justice, and community engagement and policing best practices.

REE Committee applicants may include representatives of community groups, service providers working with justice-involved individuals, members of the criminal justice system, including advocates/advocacy groups, subject-matter experts, and other individuals committed to advancing solutions the racial and ethnic disparities. Preference will be given to those applicants that have lived experience with the criminal justice system.

Emphasis will be placed on ensuring geographic representation from parts of the county most impacted by the criminal justice system. Individuals with lived experience such as justice-involved individuals and individuals affected by crime/violence are strongly encouraged to apply. Applicants should be residents of Harris County and/or be able to demonstrate that their relevant work/service experience has a significant impact in Harris County (please provide concrete examples of impact in Harris County and services provided to Harris County residents). Committee members should be available to dedicate at least 8 hours per month to the Committee's work.

The application period is now open! For those interested in applying, you have a choice of a written application or uploading a video application. Both written and video applications are due by 11:59 p.m. on Friday, October 26, 2023. For more information, to download the application, or to leave your video link, please visit https://ojs.harriscountytx.gov/Racial-and-Ethnic-Equity-Committee-Member-Application

Email all questions directly to Karen Evans, Criminal Justice Coordinating Council Coordinator, at karen.evans@harriscontytx.gov.

Imagine transforming a sterile youth prison into a vibrant community center. From replacing 800-pound doors to dismantling concertina wire, the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department has endeavored to undertake this task with resounding success. The Burnett Bayland Reception Center, or BRBC, served as a secured residential facility for many years. In January of 2022, the BRBC was closed permanently, and the process of deinstitutionalization started soon thereafter. The 40,000-square-foot facility is in the Houston community of Gulfton. Doors, flooring, and fencing were replaced or modified and replaced with bright murals, sound mitigation features, and push doors.
“Every student is now here by choice,” states, Vanessa Ramirez, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Harris County Juvenile Probation Department.
Ms. Ramirez assumed the charge to transform the facility into something that justice-involved youth could gain valuable independence skills and support.

By day, the OC is open to justice-involved youth and, in the afternoon, and evening the community can access the center for after-school activities and eventually job training and skill development. Weekdays, HCJPD buses transport young people to the community-based school and GED program. Upon diploma or GED passage, students can continue their education with certification programs for construction and HVAC or gain skills in printmaking, screen shop, access to an entrepreneurial hub, marketing and distribution center, podcast and beats lab, computer, and other life-enhancing programs. There is a student-operated convenience store named La Bodega. The OC also serves as a Work Texas site for certification, paid internships, and job training. In addition, The Boys and Girls Club offers programming for young people as well.
Ms. Ramirez opines, however, the “OC will not be considered complete until there is a daycare, college counseling program, community health clinic, and onsite housing for homeless youth.”
The OC is looking for partner organizations that can help families complete insurance applications onsite, partners for parent workshops, pro bono legal services that focus on immigration, financial coaching, Spanish GED preparation course, and other life-enhancing programs. The OC kindly appreciates donations of work gear to support student employment and supplies for vocational programs and welcomes ideas to incentivize parent engagement. If you or your agency can partner with the OC, please contact Iris Lewis at Iris.Lewis@hcjpd.hctx.net for more information.

*Images courtesy of Harris County Juvenile Probation Department
The next ODonnell Public Meeting is scheduled for Friday, October 13, at noon. The meeting will be held in person and provide opportunities for public interaction through a question-and-answer forum. The ODonnell Monitors and selected panel will share observations of the misdemeanor bail process and provide the latest updates on projects required under the consent decree along with input received from community stakeholders. Registration access for the event will be available soon.

ODonnell et al. v. Harris County et al. is a class action lawsuit filed in federal court in 2016, alleging the bail practices for misdemeanor arrestees in Harris County were unconstitutional. The parties involved in this lawsuit reached a settlement agreement in November 2019. All parties recognize that the input and involvement of Harris County residents will be essential to meaningful and lasting reform and to the system's effective and ongoing monitoring and evaluation.
If interested in the event, please fill out the survey.
Insight into the OJS Data and Analytics Division
The OJS Research & Analysis Data Team, in collaboration with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, is excited to release the U visa Dashboard in September 2023. For the first time, we can offer one of our dashboards in both English and Spanish with many thanks to our OJS Research & Analysis Policy Team for assisting with translation.

We were happy to use our technology skills to build this interactive dashboard with data that HCSO has captured since January 2019. OJS gathered HCSO’s monthly data collected for U visa requests received, approved, and denied, along with conditions of referrals or denials. From that information, OJS built a dashboard to promote transparency and accountability for Harris County. This collaborative work is available to the public on our website data page and is refreshed monthly.

Many thanks to HCSO and our OJS Research & Analysis Policy Team for making this a valuable tool for all of Harris County!
By: The Office of Harris County Administration

Today, Commissioners Court passed the FY24 budget. It includes $2.4 billion for the County’s general fund, $128 million for the Harris County Flood Control District, and $888 million for the Harris County Hospital District.
This year’s budget process was unmatched in both transparency and preparation for Commissioners Court. The process began earlier than in previous years. We implemented a Current Level of Service process for Court Members and Departments to better understand the amount needed to maintain services at the current level and the amounts required to expand. And, for the first time ever, Harris County held public meetings in each precinct to receive feedback on priorities from the public. The Office of Management and Budget also acquired an app where constituents could provide input online without ever leaving their homes. 
This budget demonstrates the priorities of Commissioners Court, including public safety and infrastructure, and reflects the value of County workers, among others. The budget includes the most significant public safety investment in the County’s history, including more detention officers at the County jail, more body-worn cameras, and three new Criminal District Courts. Flood Control included funding for additional maintenance and new facilities coming online during FY24 and funds to relocate households living in communities with a history of severe, repetitive flooding. Harris County employees will also see the highest ever cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for civilian employees, giving a much-needed benefit and retention for Harris County talent.
“I’m proud of this year’s process and the consensus we received from Commissioners Court on the tax rates and balanced operating budget,” stated Daniel Ramos, Executive Director of the Office of Management and Budget
Speaking on the process, Commissioner Ramsey noted, “We focused on what was important to the people of Harris County, and that makes all the difference in the world. May this be an example of how we do this in the future.” 
"This was budget created through a strategic and organized process over many months,” Ramos continued.” 
Commissioner Garcia emphasized, “Setting a budget, shows what the county government’s values are, and the budget passed Tuesday shows how Commissioners Court is investing in Harris County by Building a Better Tomorrow.”
The Office of Management and Budget plans to start developing the budget even earlier this next fiscal year. Be on the lookout for the OMB team at your local neighborhood meetings to discuss FY25. 

Click here to visit the Harris County Office of Management and Budget.
By: The Office of the Harris County Commissioner Precinct 2, Adrian Garcia

On the safety side, Harris County Commissioners Court unanimously approved a Resolution offered by Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia to designate the Houston Ship Channel as a critical Infrastructure Cluster of National Security Significance. The designation helps put the Ship Channel on the path toward being protected during natural and man-made emergencies. During Winter Storm Uri, for example, widespread grid failure across Texas led to power losses in this critical infrastructure cluster of manufacturing, refining, and shipping.
Additionally, Port Houston recently opened its newest wharf, which led to a visit by United States Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg for a ribbon cutting. Wharf 6 was $90+M project that expands Port Houston’s capacity. A bipartisan group of elected officials attended the event. In 2022, Port Houston became the fifth largest container port in the United States, handling 7% of all container tonnage in the country. The new wharf keeps cargo flowing into the United States, helping protect the country from future supply chain challenges.
By: The Office of the Harris County District Attorney

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office Misdemeanor Trial Bureau has diverted thousands of non-violent, misdemeanor offenders into pre-trial diversion programs without harming our community’s public safety or the offender’s criminal record.

Mental Health Diversion Program
In 2018, District Attorney Kim Ogg and other leaders worked together to fund the Judge Ed Emmett Mental Health Diversion Center to address the needs of mentally ill individuals arrested for nonviolent misdemeanor crimes. Historically, these low-level offenders spent months in jail and returned to the streets without treatment. They often were injured or declined further treatment while jailed, and were often jailed repeatedly.

Since the program’s inception, more than 8,000 mentally ill offenders have been taken by law enforcement to the Ed Emmet Mental Health Diversion Center, saving taxpayers millions of dollars. Across Harris County, 86 law enforcement agencies, working with prosecutors, now divert these offenders to the Mental Health Diversion Center instead of jail. At the center, they are assessed by mental health professionals and connected with treatment providers. Stabilization of these mentally ill individuals has proven successful in reducing recidivism.
2018 to 2022

8,564 non-violent, individuals charged with misdemeanors, have been diverted to this program to receive mental health assistance instead of jail time.
Clean and Green is a pretrial intervention program offering criminal offenders the opportunity to keep their records clear by cleaning up bayous and banks. It is a public-private partnership with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office and American Youthworks' Texas Conservation Corps to divert non-violent, misdemeanor offenders capable of repaying their community through community service
2018 to 2022
2,902 individuals have successfully completed this program.
Clean and Green Diversion Program
Environmental Impact in 2022

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office administration established that the primary goal of the Juvenile Division was to end the school-to-prison pipeline for non-violent offenders, while protecting the community from juveniles charged with violent crimes. To accomplish this, the Juvenile Division, in partnership with the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, developed multiple diversion programs for juvenile offenders.

Prosecutors now consider the nature of the juvenile distinguishing youthful misbehaviors from violent actions. Individual factors such as age, disability, mental health, and child welfare status are also considered when determining whether to charge or divert a juvenile offender.
OJS Press
Telemundo: Posibles solicitantes de Visa U cuentan con nuevos recursos en Cdo. Harris (Possible U Visa applicants have new resources in Harris County).

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