"It's an enormous trauma to these children," he said. "The mothers may have been abused themselves, and when you take the child, the child loses what he or she thinks is her sole lifeline, the only thing that is loving and familiar."
The state has charged the polygamous sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints with arranged marriages that sometimes pairs older men with underage girls. But Wexler said punishing the mother -- a "nonoffending parent" -- is a practice that was outlawed as unconstitutional in a federal lawsuit filed in 2002 by battered mothers in New York City.
"One expert after another testified how harmful to the child it is to be taken from the nonoffending mother," he said. "They should have been treated like refugees, keeping children and mothers together."
The separations continued this week as 27 boys were moved 400 miles away to Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, a residential institution for wayward children north of Amarillo. The ranch typically takes children from private referrals, many from dysfunctional families that require separation, according to CEO Dan Adams.
"We try to normalize their situation as much as possible under the circumstances with lots of supervision around them and give them plenty to do and feed them," Adams told ABCNEWS.com. "Beyond that, we don't know because it's early."
Adams said the boys will need more than physical care. "They have been involved in circumstances out of their control, and I think just as for any kids, it's the unknown," he said. "But your intuition tells you it's going to be difficult."
Johana Scot, executive director of the Parent Guidance Center in Austin, noted that these residential institutions are not carefully supervised. The state only requires one on-site visit a year unless a report of abuse is filed.
"It scares me," said Scot, who works to reunite mothers with their children after accusations of abuse or neglect.
Scot said she fears children are being moved from one isolated community to another -- Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, "a self-contained community with its own form of government, a bank, a post office, medical facilities and its own school."
"There is also a religious component and required chapel," she added. "It sounds frighteningly horrible."
Authorities have said the children will likely be scattered across Texas -- a state that is 1,000 miles wide. Even with visitation rights, mothers may not be able to travel those distances to see their children.
"Even if the abuse took place, the mothers weren't perpetrators," said Scot. "According to their indoctrination, 100 percent of their identity and value in that communal setting is tied to their motherhood. To separate them from their children is far more psychologically damaging to the mothers."
"You could argue that they are brainwashed, and that could be true, and you do further damage," she said. "It reminded me of the Nazis and how the parents and children were divided on the train platforms."
Scot argues that by separating families, the state only reinforces the mistrust that these religious sects have of the outside world.
That world has been hard on the polygamist sects, according to Irwin Altman, a retired psychology professor from the University of Utah who co-wrote "Polygamist Families in Contemporary Society."