Imagine you are watching a horror movie and the killer is chasing a victim through a terrifying forest. The victim glances up and sees someone in the distance who may help, and she runs to that person. However, that person doesn’t want to help her or even thinks she should be asking for help. “Go back,” they say. And we know that to go back would be sheer torture. The murderer finally catches up to the victim and some people scream, while others may close their eyes. Most just sit and watch while their heart races, holding their breath to see what happens next.

While that may be a movie scenario, it is very real at the US borders, where people are fleeing war-torn countries and utter poverty where they struggled to find food to stay alive. According to both US and international law, people have the right to seek asylum to escape reigns of terror in their own country. In fact, under US law, asylum seekers have the right to remain in the US while their asylum cases are judicated, no matter how they landed on US soil. True, they are supposed to go through an official port of entry.

After escaping the monster, they arrive to supposed safety only to find another one. They are arrested (they did commit a misdemeanor afterall) as they should be. However, the worst imaginable crime that any parent can ever imagine happens to them: their children, no matter what age, are snatched away from them, crying and scared. And they can do nothing about it except watch. Many of them escaped their horror show to come to the US to make the lives of their kids better. Those who argue that they are putting their kids at risk don’t empathize with what these people have been through or endured. Put yourself in their place. Wouldn’t you as a parent do anything in your power to make a better life for your children?

As doctors, we know that just providing food and shelter to children is not enough. At very young ages, their brains are still developing and their neuronal connections still forming. Psychological and mental stress during these critical periods of child development can alter those pathways—forever! Studies show that kids who suffered abuse or neglect are not only more likely to develop mental health disorders as a result, but physical diseases, such as diabetes, as well. Parental bonding has been shown to be a very important part of normal brain development.

During medical school, we learned about orphans who grew up without any love and what happened as a result. In Romania, for example, more than 100,000 children were institutionalized in orphanages. In 1989, the government was overthrown, and people were allowed in and saw the terrible harm that these children suffered due to neglect. Many of them were afflicted with mental health disorders, language delay, and a host of other symptoms that suggested abnormal brain development. EEGs were performed on these children, and it was found that many had disturbingly decreased brain activity. Additionally, MRI studies were performed and demonstrated decreased grey and white matter in their brains, and hence, smaller brains. The scientists who conducted this research concluded that it was the lack of parents (or parental figures) that caused this brain damage.

Going back to our horror show, we are now watching as a government forcibly separates children as young as a few months from their parents. People argue that these parents broke the law and put their kids at risk by doing so. If you agree with that, it is still not right to traumatize these little kids for the sake of their parents’ actions. Plus, is taking possession of these children for the commission of a misdemeanor truly an appropriate punishment (I would love if anyone can link this actual law for me)? These children are being traumatized psychologically and then forced to live in cages. Who in the world accepts that this is OK as a political maneuver? Apparently, many people in the US.

The psychological stress caused by these forced separations will permanently and irreversibly damage the brains of these children. It doesn’t matter where you stand on the immigration issue—it is never acceptable to abuse children, mentally or otherwise. As a doctor, I can attest that what is happening at the border equates to abuse and is permanently damaging these children. We as a country cannot allow this. Doctors need to speak up about this state-sponsored child abuse. These children are defenseless and vulnerable. If we don’t lead the charge, who will? And if you are a doctor who supports traumatizing young children, no matter where in the world they live or come from, shame on you. Take whatever stand you want on the immigration issue you believe correct. But if you accept harming children, you need to re-examine your oath.