"We have all kinds of radical ideas out there," Bertroche told TPM in an interview. "Build a fence, militarize it, put down minefields, shoot them as they cross the border... none of that addresses what the problem is. None of that addresses the people already here."
The commotion started at an event on Monday, where Bertroche appeared alongside other Republicans looking to take on Democratic Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA). During a discussion of illegal immigration, Bertroche said: "I think we should catch 'em, we should document 'em, make sure we know where they are and where they are going," according to a local news report. "I actually support microchipping them. I can microchip my dog so I can find it. Why can't I microchip an illegal?"
Bertroche doesn't deny what he said. He just says his comments were meant as "a critical social commentary," and that he wasn't able to complete his thought, because he felt pressured to say something quickly, and audience members were starting to get up and leave. By throwing out a crazy idea, he says, he was trying to cast other extreme ideas into relief. "This idea isn't any more politically dumb than any other one," Bertroche told TPM. "I was trying to call attention to how radical the conversation has become."
Even the attention paid to his comments is evidence to Bertroche of what's wrong with the debate. "I've had great ideas before now, nobody covers them," Bertroche said. "Suddenly when I have a statement like this I get e-mails and calls from everybody."
In his official statement addressing the incident he wrote:
At what point do we stop with the political ideologies, and start discussing common sense solutions? How many more boxcars full of dead immigrants do we need before we start addressing, in realistic terms, this tsunami of human slavery? How many more torn and broken families do we need before we agree to address, in practical terms, the magnitude of human misery created by illegal immigration?
Bertroche told TPM he doesn't remember where he first heard about human microchipping, which has recently come up as an issue in a number of states, but says it has come up on the campaign trail. While he says he dismissed it at first, in researching on immigration issues, he thought that microchipping might make a useful idea in forwarding the debate.
While Bertroch acknowledges the privacy concerns of microchipping, he says that as a physician (he's a psychiatrist), he's not sure there are legitimate medical concerns.
"The jury is still out on that. A lot of the microchip technology comes from animal studies. And for the most part, they seem to be pretty OK or pretty innocuous," Bertroche said. "I don't support microchipping people, but if it's going to become part of the debate --which was not my intent-- then microchipping people is not one of those things that is going to cause long-term cancer problems."
As a Christian, Bertroche lends a little more weight to the religious arguments against the technology, which claim that microchips could be the Mark of the Beast. "I understand that this modern technology is not all that great. There are limits to what the technology should do," Bertroche said. "If you look at where you stick [a microchip] into the socket, there is usually three rows of prongs and six prongs in each row. I know you're going to twist this to show I look crazy."
Bertroche does seem to worry that the government would go too far with the technology.
"These are human beings, you don't really want to [be] microchipping. And number two: The government wouldn't just stop at microchipping immigrants," Bertroche said. "I don't want the government microchipping you or me or anybody else in the U.S."
"Let's start saying things that are reasonable, that was my intent," Bertroche said.