Families seeking asylum at the U.S. border are fleeing violence, torture or persecution, and flight itself presents additional risk of violence, sexual assault and hunger — all with no guarantee of a sympathetic reception.

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In December of last year, our first child was born. I think of her family’s history and the fact that 78 years earlier, her great-grand father entered the United States seeking asylum from the Nazi regime.

At the age of 13, he boarded the last boat leaving Holland with his parents and sister, escaping the tragic fate of their murdered relatives. That courageous journey of family — parents and children — fleeing unthinkable horror made it possible for us to have a family of our own.

In my clinical practice as a local pediatrician, I see this same bravery in mothers and fathers who brought their children to our doorstep to escape incredible perils. The moral calculus of their decision is unimaginable. As the poet Warsan Shire wrote: “No one puts their child in a boat unless the water is safer than the land …”

Families seeking asylum at the U.S. border are fleeing violence, torture or persecution, and flight itself presents additional risk of violence, sexual assault and hunger — all with no guarantee of a sympathetic reception.

This, too, has echoes of a dark past. Our daughter’s family tree includes relatives who were fleeing on a ship called the Struma. After escaping Romania and reaching supposed safety, their ship in 1942 was literally towed back to sea by unsympathetic authorities concerned about their paperwork. The ship sank, and only one passenger is said to have survived.

‘My take’

Got something to say about a topic in the news? We’re looking for personal essays with strong opinions. Send your submission of no more than 500 words to oped@seattletimes.com with the subject line “My Take.”

Today, on a daily basis at our own U.S. border, children are being separated from their parents compounding the trauma of a perilous journey. In my opinion as a pediatrician, the current “zero tolerance” policy that separates children from their parents places children at significant risk for adverse long-term developmental, physical and mental health outcomes. This systematic separation of families damages the attachment between child and parent, a bond that is critical for their well-being. This policy is being broadly applied to all families seeking refuge at our borders, including those lawfully seeking asylum.

The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly opposes this policy of family separation, noting “separating children from their parents contradicts everything we stand for as pediatricians — protecting and promoting children’s health.” Repeated traumas (also called toxic stress) have been strongly associated with increased risk for mental illness, developmental delay, and chronic health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Research demonstrates that parents can provide a key buffer to mitigate the effects of these traumas, and the “zero tolerance” policy eliminates this crucial buffer.

On Friday, the Associated Press reported that nearly 2,000 children have been separated from their families at the U.S. border during a crackdown on illegal entries from April 19 through May 31, according to Department of Homeland Security figures.

In our own backyard, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project has reported that mothers seeking asylum at the southwest U.S.-Mexico border are now being held at the Federal Detention Center in SeaTac after being separated from their children.

Policies that do not welcome asylum-seeking families together are harmful to children. Children need their parents, and children in families seeking refuge are especially vulnerable. We are fortunate that our extended family was welcomed together many years ago, as it should be. Let us be a nation that values families and offers a promise that all people seeking safety will find it here.