Students wait in line for help with paperwork for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program at the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles in 2012. (Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters)

More than 160 college and university presidents have signed a statement urging the nation’s leaders to preserve and expand a four-year-old program that protects undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children.

Their message, made public Monday, appeared addressed to President-elect Donald Trump and his incoming administration. Trump has said he is weighing a crackdown on illegal immigration that includes plans for rapid deportation of 2 million to 3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records.

During the campaign, Trump took a hard line on illegal immigration and sharply criticized Obama administration policies that offered protection to certain groups of immigrants.

Among the higher-education leaders who signed the statement, according to the news website Inside Higher Ed, were the presidents of public flagship universities of Maryland and Michigan, as well as prominent private institutions, such as Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Georgetown.

The total number of signers climbed from 94 Monday morning to 161 Monday afternoon, according to a copy posted on Pomona College’s website. Pomona President David Oxtoby organized the letter.

At issue is a program the Obama administration launched in 2012 called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. The program, administered through the Department of Homeland Security, offers temporary protection to certain undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before turning 16, giving them a legal status for two years and the ability to obtain a work permit.

Many who obtained DACA status have enrolled in college. The college presidents said in their statement that the program has been a major success.

“With DACA, our students and alumni have been able to pursue opportunities in business, education, high tech and the nonprofit sector; they have gone to medical school, law school and graduate schools in numerous disciplines,” the college presidents said in the statement. “They are actively contributing to their local communities and economies.

“To our country’s leaders, we say that DACA should be upheld, continued and expanded,” the statement said. “We are prepared to meet with you to present our case. This is both a moral imperative and a national necessity.”

Signers from the District of Columbia included George Washington University’s Steven Knapp, American University’s Cornelius M. “Neil” Kerwin, Trinity Washington University’s Patricia McGuire and Georgetown’s John J. DeGioia.

Signers from Virginia included University of Virginia’s Teresa A. Sullivan, Washington and Lee University’s Kenneth P. Ruscio, and College of William & Mary’s W. Taylor Reveley III.

Signers from Maryland included University of Maryland at College Park’s Wallace Loh, University of Maryland Baltimore County’s Freeman Hrabowski, Goucher College’s Jose Antonio Bowen and St. Mary’s College of Maryland’s Tuajuanda Jordan