Attorney General Edwin Meese III has asked for an investigation of the Immigration and Naturalization Service's handling of a Soviet sailor who jumped from his freighter into the Mississippi River twice last week and both times was returned to the ship by INS employes.

Justice Department spokesman Pat Korten said that Meese asked the INS on Monday "to provide a full and complete report . . . . Then we'll decide how further to proceed."

An INS translator, who was here yesterday to give a written statement on the Louisiana incident, said she was asked to interview the Soviet sailor last Thursday night when he first jumped into the Mississippi and swam to shore.

She said the man, Miroslav Medvid, was returned to his ship although he clearly stated that he wanted to defect.

However, an INS spokesman said previously that officials at the scene said the translator told them Medvid did not want political asylum.

Eyewitnesses said Medvid jumped in again as he was being taken back to the freighter.

Irene Padoch, a New York-based translator who works part time for the INS translating Lithuanian and Polish, said she was asked last Thursday to interview Medvid in Ukrainian after he jumped from the Marshal Konev, anchored off Belle Chasse, La.

Padoch, who spoke by telephone to Medvid for about an hour, said, "The boy liked to stay here . . . . The boy told me he's Ukrainian and jumped from ship . . . . He was happy that someone understands him."

Padoch said she told Border Patrol agents by telephone that Medvid wanted to remain in the United States and did not want to return to the ship.

Asked about the case yesterday, Secretary of State George P. Shultz said it was "unfortunate" that Medvid had been "returned to the ship in the first place before he was properly interrogated." But Shultz said that when Medvid was interviewed in a "nonthreatening environment," his response "was very clear that he wanted to go home."

INS spokesman Duke Austin confirmed yesterday that an internal review is under way but he said the agency would not release Padoch's written statement.

"We've said all along that the actions by our Border Patrolmen are under review," Austin said. "There is a conflict between what she said and what our Border Patrol agents said in their sworn statements. The Border Patrol said she told them he did not want asylum."

Austin said there might have been a problem in communication because of Padoch's accent, a bad long-distance connection and some confusion over the meaning of "political asylum."

"We do think that they could have exercised better judgment and held the man until the next day," he said of the Border Patrol agents.

On Monday night, Medvid, accompanied by Soviet observers, was removed from the ship by U.S. authorities and interviewed. The next day the State Department announced that he had been returned to the Soviet ship again after having signed a Russian-language statement that he did not want to defect.

The department said Medvid insisted in interviews Monday and Tuesday that he wanted to return to the Soviet Union.