John Boehner may have suggested immigration reform is dead for the year, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

GOP Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a leading Republican player in the immigration debate, tells me he and some Republicans have succeeded in establishing legislative language that would solve the problem of the 11 million while also beefing up enforcement — in a way he claims could win over large numbers of Republicans and Democrats.

This would mean the only thing holding up progress on reform right now may be the refusal of House GOP leaders to allow it to move forward — and not the inability of Republicans to find a policy solution to the 11 million they can support, long a principal obstacle.

Despite Boehner’s declaration that reform will be “difficult” this year — producing yet another stack of obituaries — talks among those Republicans who still want action have apparently continued in some form.

Diaz-Balart, who is involved in those talks, tells me a new legislative proposal has now taken shape that goes well beyond border security and deals with the 11 million.

“Can you draft legislation that has serious border and interior security, with sufficient leverage to force this or future administrations? I think we have drafted a way to actually do that,” Diaz-Balart said.

“Can we deal with the undocumented in a way that is fair, that makes sense, that adheres strictly to the rule of law? I think we’ve also cracked that nut,” Diaz-Balart continued.

“We have legislative language that could potentially get the support of a majority of Republicans and a very large group of Democrats,” Diaz-Balart says.

Diaz-Balart’s remarks are significant. Ever since the House gang of seven bill died, the key question has been whether House Republicans could find a new piecemeal legislative package conferring some form of legal status on the 11 million, packaged with security triggers, that they can accept. That package also has to win over a number of Democrats. Since many Republicans won’t vote for reform under any circumstances, it can’t pass without some Dems.

Diaz-Balart declined to share details or specify who he’s in talks with. But it’s a good bet his group may include some senior Republicans such as Paul Ryan, who plainly wants to get to Yes on reform. In policy terms, one solution Republicans might accept would create a “probationary” status (in which undocumenteds can work, without calling it “legalization”), and concurrent enforcement triggers that are tough enough to reassure Republicans while appearing realistic and achievable to Dems. The details, of course, will matter a lot.

If Diaz-Balart is to be believed, real progress has been made on this front. Does this mean the prospects for success have improved? No. The leadership continues to keep reform on ice, citing “distrust” of Obama. But as explained yesterday, Obama is irrelevant to the preliminary question that must be answered: Can Republicans find their own solution to the 11 million that they can support? Diaz-Balart says there is now a policy route to Yes, which means this is now only about whether GOP leaders are willing to move forward and brave the rage from the right.

Here’s the problem: If Republicans don’t act this year, it will get even harder to do this next year — because immigration would get tangled up with GOP presidential primary politics — making it more likely they’d find themselves heading into the next presidential election without having repaired their Latino problem.

Diaz-Balart echoed this assessment — and prodded GOP leaders to act before it’s too late.

“It’s more difficult if not impossible next year,” Diaz-Balart said. “The moment when leadership is going to have to make the final decision on whether they’re going to move forward or not is going to be upon us really soon.”

The operative word there is “final.” For Republicans, it really may be now or never.