The actress talked to PEOPLE about how her children are dealing with being separated from their mother
Credit: D Dipasupil/Getty

Since 2012, Kelly Rutherford has been living a mother’s worst nightmare: being separated from her children.

Because their German father had his U.S. work visa revoked, a judge ruled that Rutherford s two children, Hermes, 8, and Helena, 5, should leave the country to live with him in France, even though the ex-couple shares joint custody.

(In 2012, a source told PEOPLE that Rutherford is the reason his visa was revoked because she claimed he was illegally dealing drugs and weapons. Rutherford staunchly denied having anything to do with it in an interview with PEOPLE last month.)

Rutherford hasn’t stopped fighting to bring her kids home since the judge’s ruling, and she recently started a White House petition she calls a cry for help.

“I really don t have a choice except to reach out to political people at this point and ask for help, Rutherford told PEOPLE at the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children s Gala for Child Protection on Thursday night. I’m an American mother who had a very unjust thing happen in my own country, what does this say about the future of all American children that this can happen?”

While celebs including Cindy Crawford, Debra Messing, Chace Crawford, and Ed Westwick have reached out in support of Rutherford, the former Gossip Girl and Melrose Place actress is doing her best to help her children cope amidst the “pressure.”

“It is not so much about time spent as it is the bond that you have with your children. We ve been separated and taken away from each other, and we just appreciate every second,” Rutherford told PEOPLE, saying she visits them as often as possible.

“We just sit back and look at each other and take each other in. For hours we could just sit there because the love is so strong and the bond is so strong,” she continued.

When she can t be with them, Rutherford says her ex “is always listening in on every Skype, every phone call. It’s challenging in that way.”

But in her precious private time with Hermes and Helena, Rutherford gets hints at what they know of the custody battle and the circumstances keeping them away from their mother.

“I don’t want them to feel it’s wrong. They know in their hearts it is, because they say, ‘Mommy, this isn t fair’ and ‘Are you still fighting for us?’ When I’m there with them and it’s just us they say things that he says to them and they have questions,” Rutherford said.

Rutherford encourages the siblings to deal with the confusing situation by focusing on their mother’s unconditional love.

“I think the important thing for all children is that they know they’re loved beyond measure and they know that Mommy loves them like crazy. That’s the priority,” she said.

Luckily, Rutherford believes her kids aren’t overly occupied by the custody drama. Having had divorced parents herself, she does her best to hide her distress for their sake.

“My parents went through a divorce, and I remember when my mom was having a tough time it was hard for me, so I do my best to stay positive to them so that they stay super healthy,” Rutherford explained. “They re in school most of the time thankfully, so they aren’t thinking about this and dealing with this on a day to day basis in the same way that the adults are.”

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When she communicates with the children’s father, German businessman Daniel Giersch, Rutherford says she is only met with threats.

“I don’t talk to him that often. I do my best to be very positive but I feel like there is always a trap being set,” she said.

In a statement to PEOPLE, Giersch’s lawyer said he will not comment on the ongoing battle or Rutherford’s claims.

“Daniel Giersch continues to protect the children from any negativity, and therefore will continue to not engage in any of these unfortunate and false media fabrications which only serve one person but clearly not the children,” the statement read.

Since her kids moved overseas, Rutherford has found solace in activism aimed at changing the laws that made the judge’s ruling possible.

“You need to feel engaged, like you re being effective, like you’re doing something about it, it gets you up in the morning,” Rutherford said about why she is an advocate for children s causes.

Currently, Rutherford s White House petition is in need of 45,000 more signatures to elicit a response from the administration.