Velez was born in Brooklyn and later grew up in Queens, New York with her eight siblings, including twin sister, actress Lorraine Velez. Velez's aspirations began to transition into reality when both Velez and her twin sister, Lorraine ("Rent"), were awarded scholarships to attend Alvin Ailey Dance School. Velez continued refining her craft by studying acting at The Acting Studio and learning Shakespeare with Michael Howard.
Since her television debut in "New York Undercover", Velez's acting career highlights include eight ALMA Award nominations including one win for the role of Gloria Nathan on the HBO series 'Oz".
Velez won a Vision Award in 2007 for Best Actress in "Dexter" as well as a NCLR Bravo Award for "New York Undercover" and a nomination for "City Hall" with Al Pacino. She was also recognized for her breakout role in "I Like It Like That" with an Independent Spirit Award nomination.
While on hiatus from filming "Dexter", Velez starred and produced a one woman show at the historic Colony Theatre in Miami as Cuba's national treasure Victoria Guadalupe Yoli ("La Lupe"); the artistic renegade who was banished from Cuba and later became the lead singer in Tito Puente's band in New York City.