A rally following the introduction of the new Dream Act bill. (Roberto E. Rosales/Associated Press)

Janet Napolitano, U.S. secretary of homeland security from 2009 to 2013, is president of the University of California.

Five years ago this week, when I was secretary of Homeland Security, we began accepting the first Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applications from “dreamers” who had been brought to this country without documentation when they were children. I will never forget that day: Tens of thousands of some of the best and brightest young people in our country applied to the program and celebrated their ability to live, work and learn in the only nation most of them had ever known.

Since that time, nearly 800,000 dreamers have gone through the rigorous application process and received DACA’s protections against deportation, including more than 100,000 who have had their applications renewed by the Trump administration.

Today, however, our nation’s dreamers face an uncertain future. Ten Republican state attorneys general are threatening to sue President Trump if he does not repeal DACA by Sept. 5. Worse, it seems unlikely that Attorney General Jeff Sessions will defend the program. During his Senate confirmation hearing, he said it “would certainly be constitutional” to eliminate DACA.

As a former attorney general and governor of Arizona, U.S. secretary of homeland security (and DACA architect during my tenure with the Obama administration), and now president of the largest public research university system in the world, I have seen the consequences of our broken immigration system at every level. In 2012, we took a step forward by implementing DACA. We should not take a step backward now. Protecting dreamers is smart, effective policy that ensures our limited law enforcement resources are spent on those who pose a risk to our communities, not on those who contribute to our state and national economies every day.

To qualify for DACA, dreamers must be in high school or have a diploma or be a veteran, among other requirements. They cannot have been convicted of a felony or major misdemeanor.

Wasting enforcement resources to deport such upstanding community members doesn’t make us safer; it does the opposite. That is why police chiefs from across the country support protecting dreamers. And the president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents U.S. agents working to protect our nation’s borders and which endorsed Trump for president, supports keeping DACA intact.

Maintaining DACA boosts our economy, especially in states with high percentages of immigrants such as California, Arizona and Texas. Dreamers pay taxes. Nearly 55 percent of them have bought cars. Some 12 percent have bought homes, and 6 percent have launched businesses that create jobs for U.S. citizens. They provide a direct economic benefit to our communities and the nation as a whole.

As University of California president, I also see the exceptional contributions that young dreamers make to our country. Most are the first in their families to attend college, and they work hard to further their educations. Some are pursuing PhDs and have ambitious, humanitarian goals, such as working to cure cancer. They represent the very best of our country. They embody the spirit of the American dream.

Trump can and should continue this program, but Congress also has the power and responsibility to protect dreamers. Republican Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) and Democrat Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) have reintroduced the Dream Act, which would provide a permanent solution for the dreamers. This bill already has bipartisan momentum in the House and Senate. It would allow these young people, most of whom have lived in the United States for nearly their entire lives, the opportunity to continue to live, work and contribute to our country and, after a long application process and additional background checks to travel a pathway to citizenship. Trump can follow through on his commitment to “deal with DACA with heart” by continuing the program and calling on Congress to pass the Dream Act.

(Gillian Brockell,Kate Woodsome,Karen Attiah/The Washington Post)

Five years ago when DACA was established, I said, “Our nation’s immigration laws must be enforced in a firm and sensible manner, but they are not designed to be blindly enforced. Nor are they designed to remove productive young people to countries where they may not have lived or even speak the language.” For the past five years, these young dreamers have proven that, when given the opportunity to contribute, they exceed expectations. It is time to unlock the full potential of these exceptional young people by making these protections permanent.