CNN  — 

The toddler pounded her fists on the play mat, sobbing, with no parent to comfort her.

Dr. Colleen Kraft watched from across the room, shaken by what she saw.

“She was just inconsolable. … We all knew why she was crying,” says Kraft, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “She was crying because she wanted her mother, and there was nothing we could do.”

Kraft had been invited by local pediatricians to visit a government shelter for immigrant children in Combes, Texas. The majority of the kids there, she says, had been separated from their parents.

The heartbreaking scene was unlike anything she’d witnessed in her decades as a pediatrician.

“I’ve never been in this situation where I’ve felt so needlessly helpless,” she told CNN. “This is something that was inflicted on this child by the government, and really is nothing less than government-sanctioned child abuse.”

Kraft visited the shelter – one of more than 100 in the country – this spring, shortly before administration officials announced that every person caught illegally crossing the border would be referred for prosecution, effectively making it an official policy to sep