When Jesse Grogg was transferred to the Washington office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in May 1978, there was a hole in the wall of the cell in which suspected illegal aliens were kept after arrest.

He promptly put in a request for repairs.

Today, the hole, which opens into a filing room, is still there. Only it's bigger. Big enough for a man to slip through.

And there are two new holes. One, the size of a silver dollar, opens right into the main hallway of the office building housing the local headquarters. Three weeks ago, immigration agents found a knife inside the cell which could only have been slipped through the hole.

Yesterday, an angry immigration service agent brought the holes-in-the-wall problem to the attention of Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti during his first question-and-answer session with Justice Department employes, who include INS staffers. That protest won the agent an invitation to meet personally with Civiletti today.

But as of late yesterday, the holes still were there.

"It fell through the cracks," lamented John Knight, who recalls, seeing the repair request cross his desk at the General Services Administration, which is responsible for such matters. "But we don't ever recall it being a serious security problem."

According to Kellogg Whittick, director of the local INS office at 1025 Vermont Ave. NW, the hole started out small and grew big as time passed and more and more people were locked up in the detention cell -- there are 20-25 a week -- had an opportunity to peck away at it No one has ever escaped, however.

"On three occasions the GSA looked at it and took no action," Whittick charged yesterday. "That was over six months ago."

"Finally last Friday," Whittick said yesterday, "Mr. Grogg volunteered to bring in pieces of board and repair it himself. But I did not think it was the responsibiltiy of an employe, at his own expense, to have to make those repairs."

Whittick said he was about to make an attempt to withdraw money from a contingency fund to buy needed repair materials so that his staff could make the repairs themselves when Narciso Leggs, an agent who reports to Grogg, a deputy district director, brought the whole matter before Civiletti.

That prompted press inquiries at the General Services Administration, prompting officials there to order someone to visit the INS local offices today.

"We'll do something temporary, whatever is needed," said Knight, who insisted that his agency would have responded promptly, anyway, if it had been informed of the security problems presented by the holes.

"I promise you when we find a new building for the immigration offices, we'll be sure we get something that can't be beaten down," said Knight.